On Tuesday, September 14 2021, I volunteered at a local polling place for the California Governor Recall Election. This was my third time working a polling place, so I didn't have a web page's worth of observations to write down. But maybe I have a blog post's worth of observations, so here we go.
This polling place was in Grattan Elementary School, a few blocks from my apartment. Thus, I was able to step out of my apartment, pick up some coffee at the open-darned-early Cole Valley Peet's Coffee, and get to the polling place in less than 15 minutes—quite a luxury when you have to be at the polling place by 0600 in the morning. Once I arrived at the school, things got frantic: My instructions said I should enter through a side door, not the front door. The side door was locked, however. I waved at someone inside who turned out to be delivering food for school meals; he poked his head out and let me know I could get in through the front door.
The front door led to a nicely-decorated courtyard. Opening off the courtyard were several rooms including the auditorium, which had been taken over for the day as a polling place. Actually, there were two polling places in that auditorium. One side of the auditorium was set up for precinct 7551; the other side for precinct 7555. This could have been confusing for voters: if a voter went to the wrong side of the room, their name wouldn't be on the voting rolls. The city had anticipated that this might be a problem and provided some signage: a sign with a map showing the borders of precinct 7551, another sign with another map showing the borders of precinct 7555. We poll volunteers eventually thought to put the signs next to each other by the auditorium entrance. And our greeting was, instead of just "Here to vote?" the lengthier "Here to vote? Depending on where you live, you want to be on this side of the room or this side."
Grattan Elementary school's courtyard had colorful art, beehives, and an unfortunately-not-visible-from-the-street sundial.
(Remember the locked side door? As part of setting up the polling place, I went to that side door with the intention of unlocking it; but it was covered with Emergency Exit Only signs, so I chickened out. I'm kinda glad it was locked—it wasn't even on the same floor as the auditorium, so voters entering through the side door would have wandered lost through school hallways until they thought to try walking down stairs.)
The school had "This is a No-Peanut Zone!" signs posted. Normally when volunteering, I lunch on peanut butter sandwiches, a food which I'm capable of preparing even before 6 o'clock in the frickin' morning. However, since I knew that peanuts were forbidden, on my lunch break I instead walked two blocks to Luke's Local and splurged on a California Classic sandwich. Just one more reason why it's nice when your polling place volunteer-spot is close to home: you've probably already researched the local quick lunch spots.
The inspectors (bosses) at both of the auditorium's precinct polling places were first-timers. That seems to be a trend: I think ¾ polling inspectors I've worked with have never worked a polling place before. I don't know if my experience is typical; but if it is… I worry that polling inspectors burn out and don't come back.
When we first set up, our ballot-scanning machine wasn't working. A Dominion tech came to our site to look over the machine. I think maybe this "Dominion tech" was working with Dominion machines for the first time ever that day. He asked us poll workers, "Do you know where the thermal printer compartment is?" and I pointed at the machine's printer, and that was indeed it, and so we found the answer but I didn't have a lot of confidence in this guy but he got the machine working so maybe I shouldn't worry so much?
Jeffrey Oldham, my ex-co-worker, stopped by to see if he could pick up lunch or snacks or whatever for us poll workers. His girlfriend Brenda was volunteering at another polling place nearby.
School was in session. Thus, during the mid-day lull, when there were no voters to help, there were still interesting goings-on. At one point, there was a great clattering—students had dropped many kite-like paper parachutes off of a second-floor balcony into the courtyard. They then came running down to see how well their parachutes had survived the fall. That might have been the highlight of the day, excitement-wise.
One jerky voter wanted to let us all know he had voted "No" on the recall. Somehow he grew up without learning that it's mean (and illegal) to talk about which side you're voting for while you're at the polling place. It occurred to me: This year we didn't have those "300 pies"* signs to mark the border of where you can put up campaign signs and such. Maybe that jerk had forgotten because there was no signage to remind him. Fortunately, he voted during a lull, and there weren't other voters in the room to be intimidated.
Speaking of intimidation, this was the first year I worked with a security guard at a polling place. I forget why we had a security guard. Was it because poll workers and election officials have been getting death threats? Was it because of anti-masker loonies who wanted to vote without a mask (their consitutional right) by walking onto school grounds without a mask (illegal)? (Those hypothetical anti-maskers might not wait to learn that we poll workers were happy to bring voting materials out to them on the sidewalk.) Anyhow, I'm glad we had guards. Though they didn't stop any downright loony anti-maskers, they did hand out masks to clueless folks who hadn't thought to bring masks to a school. Also, a couple of our taped-up signs blew off in the wind; a guard let us poll workers know about these so we could tape the signs back up better.
*I forget how many pies out the no-voter-intimidation zone extends